Schoolhouse Sex-Abuse Suspects Face Serial Accusations

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Time and again in their seven-month investigation of sexual misconduct by teachers, Associated Press reporters discovered cases in which educators accused of such misconduct continued to teach. A sampling of such cases follows.

Arizona Chief Regrets Response

By the time Nicole was in her 30s, she no longer thought about what happened to her in the 3rd grade.

Her teacher, Mr. Welsh, had resigned from the Kyrene school district outside of Phoenix, and school administrators promised he would never teach again. Over the years, Nicole forgot his face, how he made her feel, what he did.

According to court documents, Mr. Welsh molested Nicole between 1980 and 1981 while instructing other 3rd graders in class. He abused her as she tried to complete a standardized test, during reading time, and in the dark as everyone else watched a movie. He also molested one of her classmates.

But David Edgar Welsh, a popular teacher who'd described himself to parents as "a person who likes to touch and feel and hug," couldn't stay away from the classroom.

Fifteen years after the Arizona school system showed him the door, he was working in another Arizona elementary school. And this time, police were investigating allegations that he'd molested at least one of his students, a 3rd grader, just like he'd abused Nicole during the 1980s.

"How could this happen?" Nicole, now 35, asked recently as she sifted through court documents that detailed Mr. Welsh's molestation charges. She did not want her last name used because of what happened to her.

Ben Furlong was the superintendent of the Kyrene district, which includes prosperous suburbs southeast of Phoenix, when Nicole's parents sounded the alarm about Mr. Welsh. As the district's top officer, Mr. Furlong learned that students had accused Mr. Welsh of molesting them. He knew that parents were furious.

But after asking Mr. Welsh to quit, Mr. Furlong simply allowed Mr. Welsh to resign, a practice that he said was standard at the time. He didn't contact police. He didn't warn state child-protection authorities.

Mr. Furlong, who retired in 1987, says he regrets how he handled the case. "Any time an adult who has power uses that power to abuse a child, it is certainly a serious transgression," he says. "Through time, we learn how to handle these things and sometimes in the process, some people get hurt, and that's very unfortunate, and I'm very sorry about that."

In 2003, Mr. Welsh pleaded guilty to child molestation, as well as attempted sexual exploitation of a minor and attempted child molestation. The last two stemmed from his actions toward Nicole and a classmate, 22 years before.

The judge sentenced him to 19 years in prison, a heavier sentence than expected, though less than the maximum of 24 years. Mr. Welsh died of natural causes 19 months later at a state prison.

Florida District in the Dark

Hector Ramirez Almenas appeared to be an impressive candidate when he applied to teach in Port St. Lucie, Fla., a quiet town on the Atlantic Coast. He had glowing recommendations and years of experience as a Spanish teacher and coach.

What the administrators who hired him didn't know was that he'd been accused of sexual misconduct at schools in two other states. Though never convicted of a crime, he was nudged out of one job in Oklahoma and, four years later, surrendered his teaching license in Georgia without admitting guilt.

But Mr. Ramirez never told school officials in Florida, and in some cases, neither did his previous employers.

The first accusations surfaced in 1999 in Lawton, Okla., where Mr. Ramirez worked as a high school teacher and a department chairman. Officials say a 16-year-old student complained to Principal Cynthia Walker that Mr. Ramirez had kissed her and made unwanted comments about her body.

The girl said Mr. Ramirez implied that her grade depended on how much she liked him.

Ms. Walker wrote Mr. Ramirez a memo, telling him she'd found "probable cause" to support the girl's claims. The girl's parents did not want to pursue criminal charges, however, so he was urged to resign, a school attorney said.

Mr. Ramirez claims his resignation was over disciplinary problems he'd had with a male student. "I am an innocent man," he says.

He moved with his family to Georgia and got another high school teaching job. Ms. Walker, his former principal, gave him a good recommendation, and never mentioned the sexual-misconduct accusations.

"Students and parents did love him. There was just the one student who made the allegation of the inappropriate relationship," Ms. Walker says.

In Mount Vernon, Ga., yet another student made allegations. Now 23 and married with two children, she remembers Mr. Ramirez telling her she was smart, pretty, and mature for her age, and says he regularly telephoned her, and sent notes and electronic greeting cards.

"He would tell me he loved me," says the woman, who asked not to be named because of what she endured.

In 2001, she told her superintendent that she and Mr. Ramirez had had sex twice. He resigned and was charged with sexual assault, though the charges were dropped when his 2003 trial ended in a hung jury.

Mr. Ramirez headed south to Florida and applied for a teaching license there, even though he surrendered his Georgia license that same year. While officials in Oklahoma say they did not give him their endorsement this time, he got the job in Port St. Lucie, though authorities there eventually became aware of his past and fired him.

Mr. Ramirez, who now works in social services and still lives in Florida, no longer has a teaching license in the three states where he taught. He remains adamant that he was unfairly targeted.

"There is always two stories for everything," he says.

Missouri Teacher Hopped Around

An anonymous phone call finally ended Greg Crowley's 20-year teaching career.

Along the way, he'd been accused of touching his female basketball players inappropriately, of looking down their shirts and up their shorts. He also punched a former student and assaulted the grandfather of a player at a basketball game.

For Mr. Crowley, state personnel laws intended to protect an employee's privacy provided a cover that allowed him to hop from one small, rural Missouri school district to the next, without any warning to his new bosses about his past problems. He held eight jobs in all.

But then came the phone call that raised questions about his sexual relationship with a high school girl in a town where he'd taught years earlier and 300 miles away. Those questions led to others, revealing how he had quietly resigned from another school after allegations of sexual misconduct.

Read more about this series, "A Lingering Shame: Sexual Abuse of Students by School Employees." The collection includes a new Associated Press series on the issue, as well as special Education Week coverage.

"He got in trouble in every cotton-picking school he was employed at, and no one said anything," says Alice St. Clair, a school nurse and secretary in Luray, Mo., where Mr. Crowley held his last job. He was the elementary school principal in Luray, a town near Iowa and Illinois in the state's northeastern corner. "They wanted it to go away. The schools didn't want a lawsuit."

In 2000, Mr. Crowley resigned from the Kingston school district following complaints of sexual harassment and misconduct from at least a dozen students. Five pages of complaints cite "sexual or inappropriate behavior" and "immoral conduct."

But rather than report him to the state, the district accepted his resignation and paid him severance worth more than $16,000. Officials agreed not to tell future employers the real reason why Mr. Crowley left.

State law in Missouri requires local districts to report certain severe offenses, including child abuse, to authorities, said state attorney Kris Morrow. For lesser misconduct, districts have more discretion.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Crowley accepted no blame. He says the harassment charges came from vindictive female athletes angry after he kicked them off the team. His fights were self-defense, he says.

And the sexual relationship with a high school student? Mr. Crowley, now 45, says the girl had turned 18, though she told police and state investigators that it began when she was either 16 or 17.

"I feel like I got the shaft," he says. "I didn't do anything wrong."

Mr. Crowley, once certified to teach physical education and coach, is now selling cars in Columbia. He says he voluntarily surrendered his license because he was tired of fighting the allegations. State records say his license was revoked.

Vol. 27

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